AEW President Tony Khan made an appearance on Busted Open Radio to talk about the last week in AEW. Between the debut of AEW Rampage and CM Punk’s return to wrestling last week at The First Dance, Khan believes AEW has been full of exciting moments that few promotions have experienced in a long time
“There’s been more exciting news in the past two weeks in AEW then there had been, in my opinion, in the wrestling business for a long time,” Khan said. “What we really needed was this kind of energy, this kind of excitement from the fans, and the fans have shown up and expressed their excitement in a major way. We learned from ESPN that there was more traffic on their social media posts on CM Punk returning to wrestling and arriving to AEW on Rampage then they’ve had on any post since May. That includes the NBA Finals, the European Championship and the Summer Olympics. So to say that this was an event that caught worldwide attention and got people excited would be a massive understatement. I’m so excited and I think the fans are. There’s so many great things happening around AEW.
“I think it’s been long time since there was a PPV as stacked top to bottom as All Out. When you look at the card, there’s really so many matches, and it’s not the first PPV where there’s been seven, eight matches already that people are going to get really fired up about. For every wrestling fan, there’s something for everyone on this card. I truly believe that. Top to bottom what a show. Some of the great PPV’s are like that and I think we’ve done some really exciting, great PPV’s shows. We’ve had buyrates that have compared to nobody since WCW, not the last few years of WCW, really since 1999. Because in 2000, 2001, their buyrates had declined. They were still doing better business than anyone’s done since, but really those are markers we’ve since passed up on PPV. And now we’re taking it to another level in 2021, with a lot of big stars arriving in AEW and with the homegrown talent we’ve developed all coming together. There’s no better example of that happening than this PPV.”
Khan also talked about how special the AEW roster had become. Though he doesn’t like to compare rosters, he likened his level of talent to one from the 1990’s wrestling boom, albeit with a greater eye for elevating young, homegrown talent.
“I like to compare our roster sometimes to what I think was the hallmark great roster, which is 1997 WCW,” Khan said. “You had all these stars and all this young talent, and I really do my best to try to utilize the roster even better than they were doing when they were a successful company, printing money in 1997, 1998. Because they had a lot of young talent that they didn’t really utilize, and they could’ve built for the future to help make it a profitable company that they never would’ve wanted to shut down. They could’ve made it a money printing machine if they had developed the young talent in house that they had, like Chris Jericho and Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio. The people that were a big part of Worldwide and Saturday Night and those great shows.
“But they didn’t necessarily win a lot of those matches on Nitro and Thunder. And they could’ve built them for the future. I do try to build stars for the future, and that’s why you have so many great homegrown stars that are being featured at All Out, like Darby Allin, MJF, Dr. Britt Baker and whoever wins the match tonight between the Jurassic Express and the Lucha Brothers. There’s really great opportunity here and I don’t think Jericho, Mysterio and Guerrero necessarily got the same opportunities when they were on a roster with all time names like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper and all the people that were on the 1997 WCW roster. It was so successful and what a great TV business they built with that roster. Unfortunately it didn’t last, and I think it would’ve lasted longer if they had built the young stars the way I really try to do.”
Later talk turned back to Punk’s debut. Khan compared it to Christian Cage’s return after a seven year layoff and how Christian’s run, which will lead to him challenging Kenny Omega for the AEW World Championship at All Out, should serve as a blueprint for what fans can expect from Punk.
“(Christian’s return), it also sets the stage and hopefully makes people optimistic for the future, frankly, of CM Punk,” Khan said. “Cause when you see how Christian was out for seven years and you see that I’ve featured him, got him into big matches and given him the platform to succeed, but also that this is not a short term deal. This guy is going to be a part of the roster. He’s going to wrestle and he’s back. And when CM Punk said he’s back, this wasn’t one of those BS comebacks where the guys going to do a PPV match, then go do six movies and come back every five years. This is the real deal.
“It’s similar, not as a mainstream story, but it’s similar to us in the world of wrestling in terms of what he’s going to do and how he’s going to deliver, and what we expect in terms of him being a super professional guy that we all expect. It’s like with Christian. With Christian Cage, he came back and he’d been out for many years. Now he’s a featured star in AEW and he’s challenging for the title. Not because he got thrown into the mix, not because he showed up day one and I said ‘oh Christian Cage. He’s going to be the challenger for the title.’ He has had match after match after match and he worked his ass off and he didn’t just become the number one contender. He worked his way up every week and won match after match and they were great matches. And he helped make some new stars, better wrestlers along the way.”
Khan continued to praise Punk’s arrival to AEW and the possibilities going forward with him involved. Overall, Khan believes Punk coming to AEW is a milestone moment for the promotion.
“CM Punk’s comeback is the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” Khan said. “There are so many huge opponents for this guy. And he has set the stage better than anybody.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Busted Open Radio and provide a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription